Braves Notes: Swanson, Morton, Jansen

After following up their underdog 2021 Cinderella World Series win with an improved 101-win season, the Braves have been eliminated from the 2022 postseason by the Phillies. With their 2022 season in the rearview mirror, General Manager Alex Anthopoulos will be hard at work improving the already impressive Braves core.

Perhaps the most important question facing the Braves as they head into the offseason is their hole at shortstop. Atlanta native Dansby Swanson has been the Braves’ starting shortstop since 2016, and will be a free agent for the first time this offseason after receiving a $10MM salary during his final trip through the arbitration process. John Heyman of The New York Post reported that the Braves had opened extension talks with Swanson in mid-August, but there has yet to be a tangible result.

Swanson, who is coming off his fourth consecutive strong season, slashed .277/.329/.447 while posting the highest Outs Above Average (20) among qualified shortstops en route to his first All-Star appearance. He joins Trea Turnerand, if they exercise their opt-outs, Carlos Correa oath Xander Bogaerts as the top option at short.

When asked about his thoughts on free agency and potentially leaving the Braves, Swanson responded that free agency is “the last thing on my mind,” per Mark Bowman of MLB.com. However, Anthopoulos confirmed in a press conference earlier today that there is mutual interest in getting a deal done, but he did not provide specific figures, per Justin Toscano of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Braves, who have become notorious in recent seasons for signing players in the early stage of their careers to ‘team-friendly’ contracts (Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Michael Harris II, Spencer Strider, Austin Riley), currently have roughly $186MM committed to the 2023 season, not factoring in arbitration, per Roster Resource. However, out of arbitration-eligible players, only starter Max Fried is predicted to significantly impact the Braves’ payroll, with other arbitration-eligible players expected to earn under $3MM if they are tendered contracts.

Importantly, in the 2021 offseason, the Braves reportedly offered a long-time first baseman Freddie Freeman a five-year contract in the $135MM-$140MM range. When talks stalled, the Braves moved to acquire Matt Olson from the Athletics, signing him to an eight-year, $168MM contract. Freeman then went on to sign with the Dodgers on a six-year, $162MM contract.

The Braves, potentially, already have Swanson’s replacement Vaughn Grissom, who posted a strong .291/.353/.440 line in 151 at-bats after being called up in mid-August. Grissom has primarily played second in his brief Major League career but came up through the Minors as a shortstop. If Swanson is re-signed, Grissom may be forced to transition to the outfield or work as a utility player with Riley and Albies patrolling the infield.

Transitioning to the mound, starter Charlie Morton was forced to exit yesterday’s game in the third inning after taking a line drive to his pitching elbow. Morton initially stayed in the game and completed the inning but was pulled by manager Brian Snitker after Snitker watched Morton warm up prior to the third inning. During an in-game interview, Snitker announced that x-rays showed no structural damage in Morton’s elbow, and that Morton wanted to try and continue to pitch, per Mike Axisa of CBS.

Morton had pitched two innings prior to leaving the game, giving up four hits and three runs, all on a Brandon Marsh homer. Morton, who turns 39 in November was a steady force in the Braves’ rotation, pitching to a 4.34 ERA in 172 innings (31 starts) with a strong 28.2% strikeout rate. His strong performance led to a one-year, $20MM contract extension for the 2023 season, with a $20MM club option for the 2024 campaign.

Reliever Kenley Jansen is entering free agency, but Anthopoulos has made it clear that the Braves would “love to have him back,” per Toscano. After leaving the Dodgers in free agency to join the Braves on a one-year, $16MM contract, Jansen led the National League in saves with 41, posting a 3.38 ERA in 64 innings with a lofty 32.7% strikeout rate. However, Jansen’s HardHit percentage spiked from 26.1% in 2021 to 32.5% in 2022, and his ground ball rate dropped from 37.3% to 29.1%, the second-lowest mark of his career.

If the Braves and Jansen are unable to come to an agreement, they likely have his successor Raisel Iglesias who was acquired at the 2022 trade deadline in exchange for a pitching prospect Tucker Davidson oath Jesse Chavez. Since joining Atlanta, Iglesias has allowed only one run in 26 1/3 innings, resulting in a minuscule 0.32 ERA. These strong numbers are backed by a high 30.0% strikeout rate, a low 5.0% walk rate, and a solid 40.6% ground ball rate.

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